THE BALANCE OF PAYMENTS of Denmark was in a precarious position in 1950. In October it was apparent that the year’s deficit on goods and services account would exceed DKr 800 million; and it seemed that the deficit for 1951 would be even greater, in view of the sharp increase in the prices of raw materials and other imports, for which domestic demand was likely to be inelastic.
The Government, with the agreement of the major opposition parties, embarked in November 1950 upon a general program of anti-inflationary fiscal measures in order to cope with the worsening international payments situation. The program included additional taxation on consumption and incomes and forced savings which required graduated contributions estimated to amount in all to DKr 140 million. The Danish National Bank had raised its discount rate to 5 per cent in November, after having already raised it from 3½ to 4½ per cent in July; and the commercial banks also had raised their interest rates.
In 1951, despite a further worsening of the terms of trade, the balance of payments showed considerable improvement. The deficit on goods and services account, which was DKr 829 million in 1950, was reduced to DKr 337 million in 1951. The improvement—which fell within the range of DKr 300–500 million estimated by the Danish Government in November 1950 when its anti-inflationary program was announced—was particularly marked in the second half of the year, when the goods and services account showed a slight surplus (DKr 80 million), compared with a deficit (DKr 288 million) in the second half of 1950. The purpose of this paper is to examine the improvement that is attributable to the anti-inflationary policy followed by the authorities, and the improvement due to other factors.
Balance of Payments
The detailed record of the balance of payments (Table 1) shows that about half of the improvement in the goods and services account for 1951 was due to the increase in net freight receipts (transportation), which changed from a deficit of DKr 26 million in 1950 to a surplus of DKr 225 million in 1951. Since this increase in net freight receipts was mainly the result of sharp rises in world freight rates and the increased tonnage of the Danish merchant fleet, this part of the improvement was independent of the domestic anti-inflationary policy.
|Jan-Jun||Jul-Dec||Entire year||Jan-Jun||Jul-Dec||Entire year|
|A. Goods and services|
|B. Private capital movements2||108||19||127||121||123||244|
|C. Special official financing3||–17||–30||–47||–120||–46||–166|
|D. Surplus or deficit||–450||–299||–749||–416||157||–259|
|E. Compensatory official financing|
The trade deficit decreased by DKr 229 million between 1950 and 1951. Since the improvement took place almost entirely in the second half of 1951, and since there is a seasonal pattern in the Danish trade balance, it is pertinent to compare the balance of the second half of 1951 with that of the second half of 1950. The improvement between these two half years amounted to DKr 181 million, the deficit declining from DKr 228 million to only DKr 47 million.
For 1951 as a whole, price movements in foreign markets do not appear to have been favorable to Denmark’s terms of trade. The terms of trade computed on the basis of unit values of imports and exports deteriorated by some 11 per cent in 1951 (Table 2). Only in the last quarter was there some recovery, on account of the upward revision of contract prices for exports to the United Kingdom and the diversion of a part of Denmark’s dairy and meat exports to other higher-priced markets in continental Europe. However, the terms of trade for that quarter computed on the basis of unit values was still 5 per cent below those for either the year 1950 or the fourth quarter of 1950.1 Thus, although the more favorable prices which Denmark was able to obtain for her agricultural exports in the last quarter of 1951 no doubt contributed to the improvement in the trade balance in that quarter, external price movements, in general, appear to have operated against any improvement of the trade balance, whether a comparison is made between 1951 and 1950, or even between the last quarters of the two years. The improvement between 1950 and 1951 was due entirely to changes in the volume of exports and of imports: exports increased by 12 per cent and imports fell by 6 per cent (Table 3). The improvement would have been much greater if the average unit values of exports and imports had remained at their 1950 levels.
|At current prices|
|Deficit (—) or surplus||–154||–96||–107||–85||–108||–94||–169||–123||–17||–101|
|At average 1950 unit values|
|Deficit (—) or surplus||–169||–97||–89||–84||–108||–72||–47||–24||2||–36|
|Index of volume (1948 = 100)|
To understand the favorable change in the trade balance, it is necessary to find out how the changes in the volume of imports and exports occurred. In order to obtain an over-all view of the woods without getting lost among the trees, it will be best, first, to examine the national accounts of Denmark for 1950 and 1951. According to official estimates, the gross national product of Denmark in real terms remained practically unchanged from 1950 to 1951 (Table 4). Thus, an improvement in the trade balance could occur only with a corresponding contraction of domestic real expenditure (i.e., real consumption and domestic real investment). Private consumption and gross investment in fixed capital as well as in inventory all showed some decreases in real terms. National real expenditure decreased by as much as DKr 1.2 billion at 1950 prices, or approximately 5 per cent of the gross national product in either 1950 or 1951.
|At 1950 prices||At 1951 prices|
|Gross national product at market prices||23.6||23.4||25.9|
|Exports (commodity plus net invisible)|
|Total available supply||24.4||23.2||26.2|
|Gross investment2 excluding increase in inventory||5.2||5.1||5.9|
|Increase in inventory|
|Total gross national expenditure||24.4||23.2||26.2|
The question is whether the contraction in national expenditure in real terms was the cause of the improvement in the balance of visible and invisible trade or whether the causal relation was the other way round. It is extremely unlikely that the improvement in the trade balance was the cause which, by forcing prices up, compelled national expenditure in real terms to contract. For if that had been the case, the inflationary impact of the improved trade balance would not only have exerted an upward pressure on prices but would also have tended to increase employment and production. In fact, however, the index of industrial production remained practically the same in 1951 as in 1950. In addition, whereas the improvement in the trade balance took place chiefly in the second half of 1951, the industrial production index in that half year fell not only 10 per cent below the level of the first half of the year but also 4 per cent below that of the corresponding half of 1950. Unemployment, also, in 1951 as a whole was slightly greater than in 1950, and the increase was especially marked in the second half of 1951, when the number unemployed was 9.5 per cent of the working population, compared with 7.6 per cent in the second half of 1950 (Table 5). These facts do not seem to indicate that an expansionary process was at work. It is more plausible to suppose that the contraction of real national expenditure occurred, not as a result of the improvement in the foreign balance but in response to a combination of internal fiscal and monetary measures and other independent causes; and that the improvement in the trade balance, which was at least partly induced by the reduction of domestic real expenditure, was not sufficient to offset completely the internal contraction, which is usually the case if home trade goods cannot be readily switched to exports.
|First half||Second half||Entire year||First half||Second half||Entire year|
|Industrial production (1948 = 100)||120||118||119||126||114||120|
|Unemployment (per cent of union membership)||9.6||7.6||8.7||9.9||9.5||9.7|
Therefore, to understand the improvement in the balance of trade of Denmark, it is important to see how the contraction of real national expenditure occurred at the same time that money income and prices were expanding.2
The first factor to be examined as contributing to the reduction of national expenditure is the fiscal policy of the Government (both central and local). As shown in Table 6, revenues of central and local governments, less subsidies and transfer payments, increased by DKr 500 million between 1950 and 1951. Part of the increase must have been the result of price increases. Deflated by the rise in the cost of living, the increase in net government revenue in 1951 at 1950 prices of consumers’ goods amounted to no more than DKr 130 million. This is far from being adequate to account for the decrease of some DKr 800 million in real consumption expenditure at 1950 prices. The proceeds of forced savings in 1951 were probably of the order of DKr 100 million, but their curtailing effect upon private consumption was perhaps a mere fraction of that amount, since forced savings imposed by the Government can be met by the public by a diversion of the regular flow of savings and by past accumulations of savings. The net deflationary effect of the fiscal policy of the Government was even smaller than these figures would indicate, for government expenditure increased almost pari passu with the increase in revenue. Thus, the net surplus of the Government was greater in 1951 than in 1950 by only DKr 79 million, which was not sufficient to cause a net contraction in aggregate real national expenditure totaling DKr 1.2 billion at 1950 prices. This conclusion would still hold even when allowance is made for the proceeds of forced savings. For the contractionary effect of forced savings in 1951 upon private expenditure (including investment as well as consumption) was rendered very dubious by the fact that the proceeds of forced savings were all deposited with private banks, which would, in all probability, lend the greater part of them to their customers since forced savings deposits are not repayable until 1958.
|Direct personal taxes, real estate taxes, corporation taxes, etc||2,300||2,249||2,672|
|Social security contributions and fees||223||226||240|
|Fees and fines||187||206||220|
|Gross income from government enterprises and property|
|Social security benefits, etc||1,237||1,294||1,381|
|Interest on public debt|
|Total subsidies and transfer payments||1,651||1,551||1,662|
|Total revenue, less subsidies and transfer payments||3,240||3,451||3,952|
|Government gross savings||1,008||1,051||1,175|
|Government gross investment|
|Government gross savings less gross investment2||188||136||215|
Change in Expectations
Clearly, there must have been other causes at work to produce the contraction of national real expenditure that actually occurred. Most important of these were the termination and reversal of the buying spree on the part of consumers and of the speculative stockpiling on the part of businessmen, as the fears of general war and of shortages of essential goods were dissipated and the rapid post-Korea rise of raw material prices came to an end.
The statistics of retail sales (Table 7) show that the upsurge of buying after the outbreak of the Korean conflict petered out in the first half of 1951 and turned into a recession in the second half, as far as the physical volume of sales was concerned. The recession of consumer’s demand was particularly severe in the clothing sector, where the upsurge had been particularly marked. Thus, the decline in real consumption in 1951, especially in the second half of the year, was to some extent a consequence of the excess purchases in the preceding year and in early 1951, and of a change in expectations about supply conditions.
|(1949 = 100)||(corresponding quarter of 1949 = 100)|
The sharp decline of inventory investment in 1951, while other investment remained nearly constant in real terms, was probably due to similar factors. Investment in nonagricultural inventories had been 136 per cent (in constant value) greater in 1950 than in 1949 (Table 8). Such a high rate of accumulation was clearly due to speculative stockpiling and could not be expected to be maintained. Therefore, when the rapid rise in the prices of primary products began to taper off in the second quarter of 1951, and the prices of some important raw materials, e.g., textile materials, tin, rubber, etc., turned downward from the peaks reached during the post-Korea scramble, it was quite natural that speculative stockpiling policies should be discontinued. It seems likely that the 46 per cent decrease in the volume of investment in nonagricultural inventories was largely due to such a change in policies.
|At current prices||At 1949 prices||At current prices||At 1949 prices|
|Building and construction||2,105||2,520||2,370||3,030||2,370|
|Machinery, transportation equipment (excluding ships), etc||1,960||2,400||2,260||2,670||2,245|
|Military and civil defense construction|
|Total civilian gross investment excluding changes in inventory and livestock||4,285||5,150||4,845||5,900||4,785|
|Investment in nonagricultural inventories||275||750||650||550||350|
|Changes in livestock||185||85||80||–155||–140|
|Investment in agricultural inventories|
|Total civilian gross investment||4,670||5,985||5,575||6,190||4,925|
Investment in livestock fell so sharply in 1951 that there was actually a net disinvestment of DKr 155 million. This is alleged to have been due largely to the fact that the sharp rise in the prices of imported feed-stuffs relative to the export prices of animal products made it unprofitable to maintain large herds supported by imported fodder. There was thus a tendency to cut down the stock of cattle in order to diminish reliance upon imported feedstuffs. It will be shown in a later section that this had a direct influence not only upon imports of fodder in 1951 but also upon exports of animal products.
The independent causes listed above of the declines in particular lines of expenditure might by themselves be insufficient to explain the contraction of aggregate national expenditure. With no lack of investment opportunities, the contraction in one line of expenditure (say, investment in inventory) might release funds for expenditure in other lines (say, investment in fixed capital), if there were no change in liquidity or in the availability of credit in real terms. If there is to be a net improvement in the trade balance, however, there must be a corresponding increase in the margin of current national income or product that is not spent on any lines of expenditure.3
The monetary and credit situation of Denmark probably played a significant part in ensuring the net increase in the unspent margin (or “hoarding”) of the national income during 1951. As may be seen from Table 9, there was a steady absorption of cash by the Danish National Bank during the first three quarters of 1951. The Government, however, in spite of a surplus of revenue over expenditure, had been continuously putting more money into circulation; in addition to its own expenditure, it had continued to draw from its accounts with the National Bank to grant loans in aid of private investments (particularly construction) and to redeem some of the short-term issues in the national debt.4 According to the annual report of the Danish National Bank, the Government, through its accounts with the National Bank, increased the money supply, on balance, by DKr 544 million in 1951, compared with an increase of DKr 369 million in 1950. The addition through government accounts, however, was more than offset by the blocking of kroner proceeds of ECA aid—which in 1951 accounted for a DKr 405 million decrease in the money supply—and by the effects of the system of compulsory deposits in connection with textiles and certain other imports. This so-called “Piece Goods Scheme”, which was introduced for certain textile goods in February 1951 and was later extended to certain other imports, required importers to make advance deposits varying from 150 to 180 per cent of the value of the goods. These deposits were placed with the National Bank through an authorized bank as intermediary, two thirds of the amount deposited being released after three months and one third after twelve months. During 1951, these advance deposits caused a reduction of DKr 262 million in the money supply.
|Jan-Jun||Jul-Sep||Oct-Dec||Entire year||Jan-Jun||Jul-Sep||Oct-Dec||Entire year|
|Net changes in government accounts||+182||+109||+78||+369||+305||+57||+182||+544|
|Deposits under “Piece Goods Scheme”||—||—||—||—||–199||–35||–28||–262|
|Payments in respect of ECA aid||–203||–97||–105||–405|
position of the National Bank
The absorption of cash by the National Bank during the first three quarters of 1951 amounted to DKr 179 million. Only in the last quarter, owing to the concurrence of a large government net disbursement and a huge surplus in the balance of payments, was there a large outflow of cash from the National Bank.
The redundant money supply created in Denmark during the occupation had already been successfully mopped up by 1949. The ratio of gross national product, in money terms, to the aggregate money supply, at 2.7 in 1948, was close to the prewar (1937–39) average of 2.8; and from 1949 onward the ratio rose steadily above the prewar level. Thus the continuous reduction of the cash supply from the National Bank in the first three quarters of 1951, which followed upon a previous reduction of DKr 307 million in 1950, and which took place in the face of substantial increases in prices and money incomes caused by the rise in prices of imported raw materials and by the wage-price spiral, naturally created a great liquidity scarcity and credit stringency.
The cash reserves of the commercial banks and other monetary institutions were reduced while the demand for credit increased because of the rise in price levels, and the aggregate money supply fell while the demand for transaction balances rose (Tables 10 and 11). Commercial and savings banks were, therefore, affected by liquidity stringency to a quite unusual extent. Furthermore, the National Bank made it known that it would not give support to these banks. In October 1950, it even stopped giving new promises to rediscount the building loans granted by the commercial banks and guaranteed by the Government, a function it had been performing since the fall of 1948. It was not until the end of August 1951 that the Bank, in a letter to the Royal Bank Commissioner,5 declared that “subject to the condition that no increase is made in the total supply of money,6 the National Bank will for the time being be prepared to promise to rediscount building loans granted by the commercial banks to such an extent that the total amount covered by such promises may be maintained at the level to which it was reduced as at June 30th, 1951”.
|Credits to business and individuals.||5,179||6,090||6,712||7,423||7,665||7,865||7,945||7,960|
Since facilities for rediscounting at the National Bank were restricted, the commercial banks were obliged to refrain from reinvesting the proceeds from maturing bonds, and to sell bonds to the public. Consequently, the yield on government bonds rose steadily, from 4.84 per cent in December 1950 to a peak of 5.45 per cent in September 1951. Far more important, however, in its effect upon investment was the fact that private banks were obliged, by their reduced cash reserves, to resort to strict credit rationing and to refuse credits to new customers. An idea of the extent to which credit rationing was enforced is provided by the large gaps that existed from time to time between the rates of interest that borrowers were willing to pay and the conventional rates that banks charged for their loans.
Although Table 10 shows that credit to business and individuals in money terms continued to increase slightly during 1951, its purchasing power over goods and services actually was reduced sharply. If the quarterly figures of bank credit in 1951 are deflated by the increase in wholesale prices, it is seen that credit extensions fell from DKr 7,423 million at the end of 1950 to DKr 6,800 million at the end of 1951.
This credit stringency was no doubt chiefly responsible for the slight reduction (or at least the failure to increase) in 1951 of private investment in fixed capital in real terms, in spite of the sharp decrease of private investment in inventory. Indeed, it might also have been partly responsible for the large reduction in investment in inventory (since this type of investment is usually most dependent upon bank credit), even though the chief cause of its decline was undoubtedly the cessation of speculative stockpiling as a result of changed price expectation and the fall in the volume of sales in consumption industries.
Causes of Changes in Exports and Imports
The increase during 1951 in the volume of exports of bacon, meat, and cattle7 was due largely to the fact that Danish farmers reduced the numbers of livestock, owing to the relative rise in the prices of imported fodder. On the other hand, the export of dairy products seems to have suffered from the effect of derationing which increased domestic consumption of these products. The volume of butter exports decreased by some 10 per cent and that of eggs by some 16 per cent. Thus, on balance, the total volume of exports of agricultural products in 1951 was probably affected to only a minor extent.
The volume of exports of manufactured products, however, is estimated to have increased by 25–30 per cent over the 1950 volume.8 It is true that part of the increase was probably due to factors quite independent of the domestic situation. For instance, the increase in the export of ships, from 47,000 gross registered tons in 1950 to 53,000 tons in 1951, was probably the response to increased orders received several years earlier. However, Denmark is a small country exporting to a world market which in 1951 was still essentially a sellers’ market. On the whole, the aggregate volume of Denmark’s exports would depend largely upon her capacity to provide the exportable goods. Since industrial production in Denmark remained practically the same in 1951 as in 1950, there is a strong presumption that the reduction of the pressure of domestic demand was a significant factor in increasing the volume of industrial exports.
The changes in the quantities of imports of different categories should also be examined in the light of the changes in the different lines of national expenditures. A rough estimate of changes in the volume of major groups of imports can be obtained by deflating the value of the imports by an appropriate unit value or price index (Table 12).9
of Imports1(million kroner)
at 1950 Unit Values
Change in Volume,
1950 to 1951
|Raw materials for industrial production||2,424||2,995||2,270||–6|
|Raw materials for agricultural production||601||650||520||–13|
The decline in imports of consumers’ goods in constant value units, shown in Table 12, is in keeping with the fact that the most important contraction in 1951 of Danish national expenditure in real terms was in private consumption, which fell by approximately DKr 0.8 billion at 1950 prices (see Table 4). Although the drop in imports of agricultural raw materials, which consisted mainly of feedstuffs, was probably due in part to the good crop in 1951, it was also, as pointed out above, due partly to the rise in the prices of feedstuffs relative to the export prices of animal products, which induced Danish farmers to reduce their herds. It was therefore partly a reflection of the disinvestment in livestock and in agricultural inventories (see Table 8).
Since industrial production in 1951 as a whole was practically the same as in 1950, the 6 per cent drop in the volume of imports of raw materials must have resulted largely from the decrease in investment in inventories (Table 8). The most important decrease among raw material imports was that of spinning materials, which dropped no less than 20 per cent in tonnage. No doubt this was caused by two developments: (1) textile production had suffered most from the recession of consumers’ demand from the previous buying spree, and (2) the sharp fall in world prices of textile materials after the second quarter of 1951 probably put an end to the speculative stockpiling by businessmen. That capital goods were the only group of imports which increased in volume during 1951 is in keeping with the fact that investment in capital equipment at home hardly changed its pace, in real terms, during the year.
The lack of adequate sectional price indices of imports and of home-produced substitutes makes it impossible to obtain even a rough idea of the significance of the changes in relative prices and price elasticities of demands for various groups of imports. This study therefore must neglect completely this important aspect.
There remains the question of the effect of changes in restrictions on imports. It appears that import restrictions had been relaxed, rather than intensified, in 1951. In accordance with the request of the OEEC, Denmark had extended liberalization to a larger proportion than in 1950 of imports from the EPU countries. The percentage liberalized was increased to 58 per cent of imports from OEEC countries (excluding those imports that are subject to the new deposit system to be discussed below), from 53 per cent in the spring of 1950 and 51 per cent in the second half of that year. For textiles and certain other less important import items, the removal of quota restrictions was to some extent offset by the “Piece Goods Scheme” of compulsory advance deposits. It is unlikely, however, that this scheme is more restrictive in its immediate effect (i.e., apart from the general deflationary effect of temporarily blocking the deposits and thus taking them out of circulation) than the previous quota system. Immediately after the scheme was introduced, there was a large increase in the issuance of licenses for imports of textiles, and the volume imported increased considerably in the first and second quarters of 1951, when compared with the second half of 1950. The imports of spinning materials averaged 3,700 metric tons per month in the first half of 1951, compared with 3,100 tons in the second half of 1950; and imports of yarn, thread, and yard goods averaged 3,700 tons per month compared with 2,800 tons in the second half of 1950. It was not until well into the third quarter of 1951 that imports of textiles began to decline considerably, and the drop in the fourth quarter was very sharp.
It seems, therefore, that the fall in imports of textiles in the second half of 1951 was due to the recession of consumers’ demand and the changed price expectations of producers, rather than to the substitution of the “Piece Goods Scheme” for the previous quota system.
The preceding analysis indicates that several factors contributed significantly to the improvement of the Danish balance of payments in 1951:
(1) The remarkable increase in the freight earnings of Danish merchant shipping, which alone accounted for almost half of the net improvement in the current account of the balance of payments;
(2) The tapering off of inventory building, owing to the change in trends of world raw material prices and the dissipation of the fear of world war;
(3) The recession of consumers’ demand after the buying spree in the second half of 1950;
(4) The additional taxation and forced saving introduced in November 1950, although the effect of this taxation on total demand and on liquidity was largely offset by the increase in government expenditures and the redemption of government debt held by the public;
(5) The contractionary policy, which sterilized the krone-counterpart of ERP aid and the compulsory deposits under the so-called “Piece Goods Scheme” and thus allowed the balance of payments deficit to be reflected in some contraction of the domestic money supply, despite the expansion due to government financial operations and the increased demand for money for transaction purposes resulting from the rise in prices and wages.
Mr. Tsiang, economist in the Special Studies Division, is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and was formerly Professor of Economics in the National Peking University and the National Taiwan University. He is the author of The Variations of Real Wages and Profit Margins in Relation to Trade Cycles and several articles in economic journals.
If the terms of trade are computed on the basis of import and export price indices rather than unit value indices, those for the fourth quarter of 1951 are 17 per cent below the average for 1950 and 9 per cent below those for the fourth quarter of 1950.
Gross national product increased by approximately 11 per cent from 1950 to 1951, and wholesale prices by 17 per cent from December 1950 to December 1951.
See Sidney S. Alexander, “Effects of a Devaluation on a Trade Balance”, Staff Papers. Vol. II, pp. 263–78 (April 1952).
Danmarks Nationalbank, Report and Accounts for 1951, p. 20.
Letter from the National Bank of Denmark to the Royal Bank Commissioner, the Rt. Hon. Ove Weikop, M.P., Kt., reproduced on p. 36, Danmarks National-bank, Report and Accounts for 1951.
Total supply of money is defined in this connection to mean the sum of the note circulation of the National Bank, the folio deposits of the banks with the National Bank, and Treasury bills in circulation.
Bacon exports increased by approximately 8 per cent and meat exports by 17 per cent in weight.
Danmarks Nationalbank, Report and Accounts for 1951, p. 7.
The value of imports of raw materials for industrial production has been deflated by wholesale prices of raw materials for other purposes than food production in Denmark; the increase in these prices happens to coincide closely with the increase in the average value of imports of raw materials for industrial production in the United Kingdom. The value of imports of raw materials for agricultural production has been deflated by the wholesale prices of raw materials for food production in Denmark. The value of imports of fuel has been deflated by the index of the unit value of fuel imports for Norway, which buys from abroad approximately the same types of fuel that are imported by Denmark. Imports of capital goods have been deflated by the index of the average value of exports of metals and engineering products of the United Kingdom. Imports of consumers’ goods have been deflated by the index of the average value of textile products and other consumption types of exports of the United Kingdom. The weighted average of the indices used corresponds quite closely to the Danish official index of the unit value of total imports.